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Progressive Plate July 15th

July 15th, 2020

Local Root Strategies Team Dishing On All Things Farm & Food Politics

What We’re Talking About

Food, Farm and Climate Change

The global pandemic has taken some focus off another existential threat: the global climate crisis. In the last few weeks, there has been some news on this front that is worth noting. First, is the congressional climate committee report detailing over 500 pages of solutions. In addition, Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden released their unity platform leading with climate change. On the food and farm front, there was an acknowledgment of important tools like the Agriculture Resilience Act and the Climate Stewardship Act to tap into natural climate solutions. Unfortunately, there was little mention of reigning in corporate agribusinesses’ control over the food and farm system and their role in contributing to the problem. In other news, Senator Stabenow rolled out a bipartisan voluntary carbon market bill that mostly impressed mega food and farm corporations.

Key Messages

  • Farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and rural communities can be a major part of the solution to climate change.

  • To be part of that solution, there needs to be system reform including relief from hyper-consolidation

  • Investing in carbon sequestration and emissions reductions through already existing or easily accessible government programs is an important step that creates a more fair and just transition.

  • Voluntary emissions markets are the darling of corporations, but they will do very little to combat climate change or make farmers more profitable.

Rural Voices

Wendell Berry and The Berry Center

If you don’t know who Wendell Berry is, or what he has to say, the quickest introduction is the Bill Moyers interview from 2013 -- but you shouldn’t stop there. Berry has an enormous body of writings on ruralness, farming, and the land. He often avoids getting “too political” as he pointed out in this interview for the New Yorker, but what he is saying has serious political messages. Wendell is not the only Berry who has worked to shape American food and farming. His father, John, was heavily involved in farm policy in the early 1900s. His brother John Jr. was a Kentucky State Senator, and his daughter Mary formed the Berry Center in 2011. This clip from a 1974 discussion may be one of the most evident outlines of the debate over modern food production, and the problems Berry highlights have only gotten worse since. Consider following the Berry Center’s work and adding Wendell Berry to your summer reading list.

Change in Motion

Senator Tester’s Rancher Relief Plan

You may have the instinct to skip right over this since you're not a cattle rancher. Here’s why you shouldn’t. Cattle are one of the last frontiers of food and farm consolidation. The quick explanation is that while meatpacking is undoubtedly hyper-consolidated, it hasn’t affected every part of the industry equally. Corporate meatpackers chose to vertically consolidate poultry and pork production before beef--for efficiency reasons (although dairy is a discussion for another day). That means that one of the largest remaining populations of independent stewards of the land are those that raise cattle. Senator Tester is trying to save them with his Rancher Relief Plan. The legislation is not systemic reform, but it is significant progress and has bipartisan support.

What it does

  • Expands opportunities for medium and small state inspected meat processors to sell across state lines

  • Requires meatpackers to buy more cattle on the open market and creates more price transparency

  • Calls on Congress to reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling on beef

Senator Booker’s Local FARM Relief

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to reveal just how broken our food system is in the hands of giant multinational agribusiness, Sen. Cory Booker has drafted legislation that will strengthen local and regional food systems -- all while providing food assistance to Americans in need. The Local Food Assistance and Resilient Markets (FARM) Act will increase investment into the local and regional food supply chains that have proven themselves the most resilient and sustainable option.

What It Does

  • Connects local farmers with those who are food insecure through state grants

  • Provides support for getting farmers markets, food hubs, and local farms access to online nutrition assistance which is currently only available with mega retailers like Wal-Mart

  • Provides local food entrepreneurs much needed federal assistance to cover costs associated too COVID-19 adaption

  • Provides farmers who need credit assistance with more options through the USDA microloan program

  • Prioritizes supporting farmers and entrepreneurs of color.

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